Jamie Chalmers, aka Mr X Stich, is the founder of www.mrxstitch.com, a website that celebrates the edgy, irreverent side of contemporary embroidery and needlecraft. In 2011 he curated the book PUSH Stitchery celebrating and in 2012 he became involved in #imapiece, a campaign using cross stitch as a form of political activism tackling malnutrition. Here Jamie offers his advice on making it as a craftwriter.
My adventures in craft writing began with a counted cross stitch pattern. It was an art nouveau head, my first attempt at stitching, and I was hooked.
It wasn’t long before I began designing my own patterns and exploring my own artist/craftastic approach to the subject. From there, it wasn’t really that long before I started feeling the need to share my experiences with others, and www.mrxstitch.com was born.
Celebrate the work of others
Bit by bit I began finding other stitchers who were exploring the genre and making it their own, and I decided to make a weekly feature about them, creatively titled the Cutting (& Stitching) Edge.
In Spring 2009 that I made two decisions that underpinned the lasting success of Mr X Stitch – I created a group on Flickr for people to showcase their own creations, and I recruited a sub-editor. I’d become friends with Beefranck over the preceding few months and had realised that we shared a deranged sense of humour as well as a love of stitchery, and so I asked her if she’d help me with the site, and god bless her, she agreed.
It wasn’t long before we had combined our efforts, improved our search capabilities, and introduced more regular features to the site.
Learn to delegate
At the time of writing, Mr X Stitch has seven authors on the site, some of whom only write one post a month, however the net effect is that we are able to produce two posts a day featuring a terrific breadth of writing that encompasses a wide range of stitching subject matter.
The creation of the Phat Quarter, our embroidery group on Flickr was the second smartest move we made. We’d spent a long time searching on Flickr for pieces of amateur embroidery, and had some success. However the creation of the group meant that people would post pictures of their work in a convenient location for us.
It had the knock-on effect of creating a sense of community on the site, allowing us to hold swaps and discussions, and bring a bit of fun into the mix.
At the time of writing we have nearly 1,000 members in the Phat Quarter, and have had the best part of 10,000 pictures of embroidery shared with the group.
Use existing mechanisms
If you are focusing on a particular craft, and you want to showcase new talent, create a place where people can display their talent.
Picture websites like Flickr provide a terrific opportunity for amateur crafters to show off their work and to receive support and inspiration from others, so use them to your advantage!
One of the things I love about writing about crafts is how it has helped me appreciate the subject in ways I hadn’t realised.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the only way you can truly explore your relationship to the craft is to look at a lot of it and write about it.
I’ve often been surprised by my responses to people’s work – I’ve found inspiration in unlikely places and come across pieces of work that have really moved me.
One thing I’ve been mindful of doing is maintaining integrity in my opinions about the work I’m writing about – it’s too easy to be gushing about everything you see and readers will quickly pick up on that kind of behaviour.
I’ve had a few posts that I’ve found tricky to write about, and have delved into the thesaurus for other words for “average”, but I’ve been quite firm in avoiding sycophancy.
Keep it real
In the modern climate, and with the continuing rebirth of craft as the new cool, you’re likely to get a lot further if you have a distinctive voice.
You can interpret that last statement as you see fit, but if you’re consistent in your commentary, people will come to understand your view and (with a bit of luck) respect it.
Be warned, incongruous behaviour will quickly undo any good will that you’ve created, so resist the temptation.
I feel very blessed to have found a niche in the craft field and to be able to discover new artistic talent and meet terrific people that love embroidery as much as I do.
I hope that my love for the craft is reflecting in my writing and my enthusiasm for the subject, because it is a genuine love for something that brings me a massive amount of pleasure. Which brings me to…
The craft writing field is saturated and it’s essential that you find a niche or subject to specialise in. Ultimately this will result in a great deal of writing about a narrow subject matter. So you’d better love the subject, or come to love it very quickly.
Crafters are a canny bunch and they know when someone is faking enthusiasm, so I wouldn’t even bother. However, if you love your craft and you can find content to write about, give it a whirl!